Warning: even more pic heavy than usual!
The SP6 is a high-output multi-emitter light, with a novel emitter arrangement and reflector design (5x XM-L). Fortunately, I have a few other single- and multi-emitter lights to compare the SP6 to
Note: as always, these are only what the manufacturer/dealers report. To see my actual testing results, scroll down the review.
- LED: 5x Cree XML Cool White T6 or Neutral White T5
- Output and Runtime: 5 Modes
- Max: 3500 lumens, 1.3 hours
- Med2: 1800 lumens, 2.6 hours
- Med1: 500 lumens, 14 hours
- Low: 80 lumens, 100 hours
- Battery: 6x18650 Rechargeable Li-Ion battery (6x 2250mAh included) or 12xCR123 (Not Included)
- Reviewer's note: The final shipping version has 6x 2250mAh balanced (but apparently unprotected) Panasonic cells shrink-wrapped to the carrier. However, the original specs had this notice: "Please load batteries properly as displayed. Please use high quality batteries of the same manufacturer to achieve maximum performance and balanced safety. Protected 18650s highly recommended"
- SCHOTT Ultra clear anti-reflective coated lens
- IPX-8 waterproof
- Weight Without batteries: 780g, With batteries: 1050g
- Dimensions: Length: 270mm, Width: 87mm
- Premium grade aluminum alloy machined body with HA Type III finish
- Battery indicator and built-in voltage detection for auto step-down function
- Bezel contains standard threads for 82mm camera lens color filter
- Waterproof charging port, 25.2V (6x18650). Do NOT charge CR123s or RCR123 of any kind.
- Operation: Single click of the button to turn the light on & off. Hold button to scroll through Low, Med1, Med2, and Max mode. When desired mode is acquired, release button to select that mode. After 3 seconds on selected mode, mode is memorized
At any mode, quick double click on button to trigger the Strobe mode.
- MSRP: ~$400 (with 6x 18650 included)
This is a substantial light the lack of scale above doesn't really give it justice. Inside the hard cardboard box with packing foam you will find the light (with battery carrier inside), shoulder strap, charging transformer brick and AC cable, extra o-rings and manual.
I am not showing the carrier above but you also get a set of six 18650 protected cells with the final shipping version of the light.
From left to right: AW Protected 18650; Spark SP6; Olight SR92; Xtar S1; Thrunite TN30.
Actual Measured Dimensions
All dimensions were personally measured, and are given with no batteries installed:
Spark SP6: Weight: 836g (est. 1,138g with 6x18650), Length: 270mm Width (bezel): 871.mm, Width (tailcap): 52.2mm
Nitecore TM11: Weight: 342.6g (544g with 4x18650), Length 135.3mm, Width (bezel): 59.5mm
Olight SR95: Weight: 1,224g (with battery pack), Length: 323mm, Width (bezel): 87mm
Olight SR90: Weight: 1.6kg (with battery pack), Length: 335mm, Width (bezel): 97mm
Olight SR92: Weight: 1,148g (with battery pack), Length: 271mm, Width (bezel): 98mm
Olight X6 Base Unit: Weight 1.1kg, Length: 161mm, Width (bezel): 113mm
Olight X6 Battery Pack: Weight 482g, Length: 144mm, Width (height): 100mm
Thrunite TN31: Weight: 725g (with 3x 18650 protected cells), Length: 203mm, Width (bezel): 79.0mm.
Xtar S1 Production: Weight: 876.0g (est. 1028g with 3x18650 protected), Length: 240mm, Width (bezel): 83.4mm
Overall dimensions and weight of the SP6 are most closely aligned with the Olight SR92 (a 3x XML-L light).
Anodizing is a matte black, similar in style and feel to other Spark lights (except for the color). There are few chips on my sample, typically near areas of heaviest knurling, but they are minor.
Knurling is very aggressive on the raised portions of the handle, which also has a lot of scalloping and "pineapple-like" ridging to help with grip. This is actually one of the "grippiest" high-output lights I've seen rest assured, it is quite beefy.
Labels were sharp and bright white against the black background.
There is a stainless steel clip-ring around the head, for use with the included shoulder-strap.
Screw threads are anodized at both ends of the battery tube for lock-out. Although threading diameter is the same, the number of threads are not (i.e., the battery tube only fits on one way). Threads are triangular cut, but very deep, and seem of good quality.
Light uses an electronic switch, with good feel. As always, it may take you a few tries to get the timings exactly right (scroll down to my UI section for an overview)
There is a battery indicator on the other side of the head, with five bars. Again, see my UI section for more info.
Light has a flat black aluminum bezel. But I am sure what you really care about are the emitters:
Ok, that's a pretty unique arrangement.
There is one XM-L emitter at the centre of a raised column in the middle of the head. The emitter has its own tiny reflector cup (i.e., less than a centimeter in any direction). The other four of the XM-L emitters are arranged along the sides of that column, each one offset at 90 degrees apart. The four emitters point in the four equal and opposite directions.
Coupled with those four emitters are four "petals" of the overall large reflector. You could think of each of these segments as "scoops" that collect the light from each emitter and focus it forwards. This is why if you look at the light straight on (i.e., the last of the four pictures above), you see almost a perfectly round reflection of the four dies into one big circrle.
Here are some close-ups to better show you what I mean (the last on Lo, with a super-fast shutter speed):
This is definitely expected to produce a fairly unique beam, with decent center-beam throw. Scroll down to my beamshots section for more info.
The light can tailstand stably, and the tailcap has cut-outs that allow you to thread a lanyard or ring, as shown above.
The column in the center has metal cover than unscrews. Underneath is the charging dock. Note the included charger is for use of 18650 cells only. I will talk more about the charging function a bit later.
The inside of the tailcap has two double springs the inner one is for connecting the negative terminal of the carrier to the body, the outer ring (positive contact) is used when charging the 18650 cells with the charger cable.
The shipping carrier comes bundled with 6x 2250mAh Panasonic 18650 cells, apparently matched for performance. The cells are shrink-wrapped to the carrier, but can be easily removed and replaced with cells of your choosing.
I will discuss charging and battery selection later in this review.
As you can see on the base of the battery carrier, there are two contact areas that mate with the springs in the tailcap. The inner ring is the negative terminal, and the outer ring in continuous with the positive terminal at the top of the carrier (for use when charging). The top of the carrier has a spring to connect the positive contact plate in the head.
Given this design, you wouldn't want to short the contacts at the base of the carrier (to paraphrase Ghostbusters, crossing the contacts would be bad).
The carrier holds six 18650 cells (or 12x CR123A cells). Pay close attention to the orientation of the cells (i.e., don't reverse polarity). Unlike some other carriers this size, the SP6 uses 6S1P configuration (i.e., all six of the cells are in series). The way this works is that the current path travels up from one 18650 cell in the bottom row, to the cell above, down one pair of support struts, and back up the next 18650 column.
The reason I know this is that the original carrier shipped with my early SP6 was defective there was a break in the circuit path. Tracing it with my DMM, I soon found the culprit one of the plastic screws at the bottom of the carrier was broken, and not holding the strut firmly against the base. And yes, you heard that right the original carrier had plastic screws on the base plate. This was presumably to prevent the risk of accidentally shorting the carrier to the metal inner base of the tailcap (i.e., the negative terminal).
Clearly, the original plastic screws were clearly not an acceptable solution. Spark has replaced these with lower profile metal screws that are recessed within the carrier base. You should thus be relatively safe. And not to worry, all shipping SP6 lights have the new carrier with the all-metal screws.
The supplied charger plugs into the tailcap, and is meant for use with 6x18650 cells in the carrier, inside the light. The light on the charger transformer brick is red when charging, and goes green when fully charged (I don't know if it fully terminates or not more on that in a moment). It took about 3 hours to fully charge my AW protected 2200mAh, and 3.5 hours to fully charge the supplied 2250mAh Panasonics.
Immediately after each charging cycle, I measured the resting voltage of the fully charged carrier with my digital multimeter (DMM), and always got between 25.35~25.38V with the supplied Panasonic cells. Each of the six cells typically measured a consistent ~4.23V individually on my DMM.
But note that there is no apparent charge balancing performed by the carrier. In other words, the charger happily keeps on charging until its ~25.4V limit is reached. If you had one mismatched cell of lower voltage in there, that would mean the other five would be over-charged to meet the final total~25.4V goal.
Spark's solution to this problem was to supply the carrier with 6 well-matched quality cells (verified on my sample, although I don't know what criteria they used for matching). For the end user wanting to use their own cells, you would need to start with 6 cells of the same brand, from the same batch, of the same age (with comparable number of cycles on them) and with voltages directly verified by a DMM. Of course, even at that, you don't have any guarantees that the internal resistance remains comparable among the cells over their runs. Ideally, you should check each of the cells individually with the DMM before starting a charging cycle (as well as after). This is why I typically recommend you don't rely on non-balancing chargers for routine charging of multiple cells (although it's probably fine for occasional partial top-ups).
I also recommend you stick with protected 18650 cells whenever possible. The protection circuit provides a measure of security against over-charging (just like it does against over-discharging). But you should never rely on that the set point for IC cut-off is likely too high for regular use, and could result in damage to the cells (i.e., I believe it is typically around ~4.3V). As far as I know, the supplied Panasonic 2250mAh re NOT protected.
As a case in point, I have experimented with charging deliberately voltage-mismatched AW protected cells charged in the SP6. I can confirm that the charger simply tops up each cell to a consistent level (i.e., doesnt balance). But the charger indicator did go green once one of the cells reached its protection cut-off. Resting voltage for the carrier was only 24.98V at this point, which is lower than where it would normally stop.
But I am not so sure the charger actually terminates when the light goes green. In most of my testing with balanced AW protected cells, they came out of the SP6 charger ~4.23V (similar to the stock supplied cells). But in one case, I purposefully left the charger connected for an additional ~3 hours after it had gone green. The cells I pulled from the carrier that time all measured ~4.25-4.26V resting voltage, which is definitely beyond my comfort zone.
UPDATE AUGUST 19, 2012: It looks like my supposition that the charger doesn't terminate when it goes green is correct - TurboBB directly measured current/voltage during a charge, and shows that it just slowly continues to taper off. On positive side, his results do confirm the charger uses a good CC/CV algorithm. And the magnitude of the "overcharge" shouldn't be any greater than what I report above - within a few hours after the green light, the charging current drops to below the standby drain of the battery indicator (i.e., effectively cancelling each other out).
When it comes to multiple Li-ion setups, I believe it is really up to the end user to educate themselves on the nature of these batteries, and what are safe charging/discharging strategies. Spend some time in the batteries forum here, and invest in good quality cells, a quality charger and a good DMM.
Turn the light off/on by electronic switch in the head.
As with all electronic switches, timing may take a little getting used to. A quick click (i.e., press and release) turns the light on in constant output. Press and hold the switch to cycle between output modes (release the switch to select the mode). Mode sequence is Lo > Med > Hi > Turbo, in repeating sequence. A quick click turns the light off.
Pressing and holding the switch from off will also start the light running through its output modes. The light has mode memory, and retains the last level used when clicking the light back on. Note that pressing and holding the switch always starts the mode selection beginning with Lo.
There is a strobe mode access by quickly double-clicking the switch. Double-click (or turn off-on) to return to constant output.
The battery indicator activates as soon as the carrier is fully connected. When you first connect the light, the first two indicator bars light up briefly, then the five indicators light up in sequence to indicate to approximate charge of the batteries (i.e., five bars is fully charged). The indicator stays active the entire time the carrier is connected. It is also active during actual usage, and will drop in charge status as the batteries begin to run down. But in practice, I typically found the output had already begun to step down by the time the indicator started to drop bars (i.e., you can already tell from the lower output).
For information on the light, including the build and user interface, please see my new video overview:
As always, videos were recorded in 720p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 480p to 720p options. You can also run full-screen.
In general terms, the SP6 appears to be current-controlled on most of its lower output modes. The only level where I saw evidence of flickering was on the lowest output:
There is a re-occurring signal at ~820 hz, which is noticeable in actual use. I am not sure if this is actual PWM though, as the signal pattern looks unusual (i.e., should be a much tighter peak at this output level). Note that higher frequency noise can also be observed at this level:
These higher frequency patterns do not produce visual effects, but the 820 Hz noise is definitely detectable by eye.
Strobe is a standard tactical strobe, of ~8.2 Hz.
As with all lights that use an electronic switch, there will be a stand-by drain when the carrier is fully connected. I can't be sure of the exact drain in this case, as my DMM seems to be getting confused by the built-in battery indicator feature (i.e., the circuit is trying to measure the voltage of the cells at the same time as the DMM is in the current path trying to measure current).
As previously mentioned, when you first connect the charger, the battery indicator lights up one bar at a time. With a fully charged carrier, the initial current reading on my DMM was 2.20mA on the first bar, with a step up on every subsequent bar. The final stable current reading was 2.50mA (all five bars lit up).
Take that for what it is worth. For cells in series, you add voltages but not current capacities so for stock 2250mA cells, a 2.5mA drain would translate into just under 38 days before the batteries would all be drained.
Again, I don't know how accurate that is, but it would be considered fairly high it were correct. In any case, you can always break this current by unscrewing the head or the tailcap for the body. I recommend you store all such lights physically locked-out when not in use.
And now, what you have all been waiting for. All lights are on their respective max battery sources, about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.
As expected, the four side-mounted emitters and reflectors produce some visible patterns in the spill. But you don't get a very accurate representation of the beam at this ridiculously close distance of 1m.
Also, please realize that these sorts of indoor beamshots won't give an entirely accurate feel for the output of the SP6, given its very broad spill (i.e, beyond the camera range). Also, as I discovered in my runtime testing, output continues to increase over the first several minutes (beamshots are all done within ~30 secs to 1 min).
Despite these caveats, the above probably gives you enough information to see that initial overall output is fairly close to my most heavily-driven 3x18650 light, the 2750 estimated-lumen Thrunite TN30. But as the actual output/time graphs will show later in this review, the SP6 and TN30 quickly pull apart from each other in ongoing output over time.
Clearly, outdoor beamshots are needed here.
These are all done in the style of my earlier 100-yard round-up review. Please see that thread for a discussion of the topography (i.e. the road dips in the distance, to better show you the corona in the mid-ground).
And please forgive the insect flight-trails on many of these runs (especially the X6). What can I say - these high-powered lights attract a lot of flying buggies.
Unfortunately, my standard outdoor camera settings were developed for <1K lumen throwers. This means that these higher output multi-emitter lights tend to look a little washed out.
But the above should give you enough of a feel to realize that the 5xXM-L SP6 is definitely more of a thrower than the 3xXM-L TN30, despite being only slightly brighter overall initially. But also note the SP6 does light up a wider spill area than the TN30.
The SP6 certainly doesn't compete with the more heavily-driven 6xXM-L Olight X6 in terms of raw power at least initially. Again, see my output/time graphs later in the review for how this changes over sustained runs (i.e., the gap narrows over time).
Here is a close-up of the center of the beams:
Even with automatic white balance, the tint differences make it hard to compare the overall throw. But the point again here is that initially the SP6 is brighter at 100-yards than the Thrunite TN30, but doesn't come near the Olight X6.
In case you are curious as to how the SP6 compares to my higher-output dedicated throwers, here is a comparison to the 1xXM-L Thrunite TN31 and 1xSST-90 Olight SR95:
Note that those lights have more center beam throw, but the SP6 certainly does a serviceable job of lighting up 100 yards.
Scroll down to my Summary tables for more details on actual measured output and throw for all the lights listed above (and more).
All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan, except for any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.
I have devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lightbox values to Lumens thread for more info.
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables. Effective July 2012, I have updated all my Peak Intensity/Beam Distance measures with a NIST-certified Extech EA31 lightmeter (orange highlights).
The max output of the SP6 is actually somewhat difficult to measure, as it changes over the first few mins of the run. It is also somewhat temperature dependent (see my discussion below). But based on my ceiling bounce comparison to other high-output lights in my collection, I would rate the SP6 as no more than ~3100 lumens at its peak.
What I have shown in the table above is the estimated lumen output and peak throw at the standard ANSI FL-1 measure of between 30 secs and 2 mins. As the SP6 continued to increase in output beyond this time, I have put the absolute max readings I obtained at later points in square brackets in the table.
Consistent with the beamshots, the SP6 is surprisingly throwy for a 5xXM-L light at ~3000 lumens. But it doesn't match the throw of the dedicated high-output single-emitter throwers (e.g. Olight SR90/95, Thrunite TN30).
Again, scroll down for a discussion of output changes over time
Ok, this is going to take some explaining.
First off, I noticed that output and runtime performance was somewhat variable for the SP6. Here is a comparison of two different Turbo mode runs on the supplied stock Panasonic 2250mAh cells, and one run on well-matched AW protected 2200mAh cells
You can see that while overall capacity was comparable on the two stock cell runs, the pattern was variable both for how flatly regulated the Turbo portion was, and how long it took for step-down to occur. This more variability than I normally observe on successive runs more on this in a moment.
First point to note here is that it consistently took >10 mins before my SP6 sample reached its max output.
Secondly, the AW protected cells 2200mAh gave roughly comparable performance to the stock supplied Panasonic 2250mAh cells at least up the first step-down. But the stock Panasonic cells were able to provide more consistent power toward the end of the runs as evidenced by the repeated number of step-downs to lower levels. Of course, part of that may simply be one (or more) of my protected AW cells reaching their circuit cut-off point and terminating the run earlier than the stock Pannys.
But what about the variable performance on the same stock cells shown above? I believe the explanation for this has more to do with ambient room temperature than anything else. The first run was done in the morning (ambient room temp 22 degrees centigrade). The second run was done after a long-day of testing (ambient room temp 27 degrees). Note both runs were done under a cooling fan.
To see what I think heat is the culprit, here is what happened when I tried a run without a cooling fan:
The SP6 reached max output more quickly without fan cooling then started to just as rapidly drop in output.
I was concerned about the rise in temperature with the light, so once the initial activation output level was reached, I started the cooling fan to see what would happen. As you can see, the light quickly recovered some output, but never returned to the peak brightness.
I haven't done a lot of surface temperature monitoring of lights, but here's a comparison of output and surface temp of the SP6 with the Olight SR95.
For both lights, the thermal probe was mounted on the head of the light, about half an inch above the switch. Fan cooling on both lights.
Over the initial Turbo portion of the run, the SP6 gets a lot hotter than the SR95 (i.e., 52 degree centigrade for the SP6, vs 38 for the SR95). I suspect this high heat contributes to the variable initial step-down and regulation pattern on the SP6 seen on successive runs.
So how does the output really compare to other lights? To compare, I've chosen the second Turbo run on stock cells, and have also included my standard AW protected 2200mAh at all levels.
Let's start with the high-output multi-emitter lights, on an estimate lumen scale:
While the beamshots seemed to indicate that the SP6 wasn't much brighter than the 3xXM-L TN30 and considerably less bright than the 6xXM-L Olight X6 the output over time tells another story. Basically, the SP6 looks quite intermediate between these two lights over most the run.
Keep in mind that all my standard testing is done under a cooling fan. I've included a full run for the X6 without cooling, but that's the only light I've done that on. I would expect the SP6 is likely to drop in output over time without adequate cooling.
To compare to the rest of the multi-emitter lights in my collection, here are a few tables of the various output in my standard relative output scale from the lightbox:
One thing you can see from all of the above is that the 5xXM-L arrangement is apparently more efficient than the heavily-driven SST-90 lights on the custom Olight SR-series battery pack. Same goes for the 3xXM-L SR92. Note that all the SR-series lights use a battery pack that is also composed of 6x18650 cells (or their equivalent exact capacity is unknown). At lower outputs, the output/runtime efficiency gap narrows.
Although the unique emitter pedestal and reflector design minimizes artifacts and improves throw, there are still some patterns present in the spillbeam. Overall though, the light has a good balance of throw to flood with a greater emphasis on throw than the traditional multi-emitter setups I've tested.
The light gets quite hot during operation on Turbo hotter than other lights I've tested in this class. This likely contributes to the higher than typical degree of variability in when step-down occurs.
Turbo and Hi are slightly lower output initially (~10-15% less than their respective maximals). Output increases over an extended period of time, eventually leveling off at maximal output.
The carrier/charging cable solution lacks any charge balancing features. As such, I recommend users invest in a good quality charger and DMM, and continually monitor the performance of the individual cells. I also recommend users stick with well-matched, quality protected 18650 cells (i.e., same brand, purchased as group from the same batch, with comparable numbers of charge/discharge cycles). The bundled 2250mAh cells seemed well balanced in my testing, but are apparently unprotected. Please see my detailed comments about batteries and charging under the build section of this review.
Based on my results, I suspect the charger doesn't terminate when the light goes green. UPDATE AUGUST 19, 2012: TurboBB directly measured current/voltage during a charge, and confirmed that it doesn't terminate (i.e., just slowly continues to taper off). On positive side, his results do confirm the charger uses a good CC/CV algorithm. And the magnitude of the "overcharge" shouldn't be any greater than what I report in my charger discussion earlier in this review - within a few hours after the green light, the charging current drops to below the standby drain of the battery indicator (i.e., effectively cancelling each other out).
Due to the electronic switch and continual battery indicator, the light has a stand-by current when fully connected. Measurement is complicated by the battery voltage feature, but the standby drain appears to be high enough to fully drain the bundled cells in just over a month. You can break this current by loosening the tailcap or head from the body (which I recommend when storing the light).
There is evidence of visible PWM-like flickering on the lowest output level, but the other levels all appear perfectly stable and current-controlled.
Ok, this has got to be one of the longest reviews I have ever done.
The reason for that is there is a lot to talk about here. The SP6 has some pretty unique features for a high-output light, and has some specific issues and concerns. I don't plan to re-hash everything here, so please refer back to the detailed testing and comments up above.
To start, the beam pattern is pretty unique on the SP6. The novel arrangement of the five emitters and custom reflector produces a beam pattern that is somewhat intermediate between other "floody" multi-emitter lights and the more "throwy" single-emitter lights. Please see my outdoor beamshot section for more info.
The use of standard 6x18650 cells with a carrier (with an included in-light charging solution) provides a good amount of flexibility in how you can power the light. But this brings with it the need to educate yourself on the principles of Li-ion battery charging and discharging. Please see my detailed charging discussion in the build section of this review for more info.
Physically, this is a substantial light, in keeping with the power source and output. Ergonomics are good though, and I find the light well balanced and very "gripy". The interface is intuitive to me, once you get used to the exact timings of the electronic switch.
Output/runtime performance of the light is also good, with excellent efficiency on the apparently current-controlled Med-Hi-Turbo levels (note the Lo level appears to use PWM). Output levels are well spaced, and I like the step-down feature as the batteries near the end of their run.
Sustained max output is definitely higher than any of my 3xXM-L lights. The ~3100 estimated lumens in my testing seems reasonable given the limited thermal mass available to the emitter "pedestal" in the head. Note however that the SP6 gets hotter on sustain max output than other lights this size that I have handled. As a result, you can expect a greater degree of variability in output stabilization and step-down timing.
I know there is a lot of info to wade through above, but I encourage you to browse through the detailed individual sections of this review for more info. The novel emitter/reflector implementation is particular distinctive, and places the SP6 in a somewhat unique category of a "floody thrower".
As always, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.
Spark SP6 provided by sbflashlights.com for review.